My hope of remaining incognito got an immediate jolt when, while wandering through the cavernous clubhouse of the Tournament Players Club, perusing historic photos of Players Championships past—notably the first one on the TPC course in 1982 when winner Jerry Pate tossed architect Pete Dye and then Tour Commissioner Deane Beman into the lake beside the 18th green before diving in himself—whom do I bump into but Deane Beman, looking fit and on his way out to play.
“What are you doing here?” he asked immediately.
“Well, I’m on a quick break, staying at the Marriott, playing the TPC and Dye’s Valley—not as a press guy but as a legitimate paying guest.”
After a bit of chitchat we parted and I headed to the range.
“Mr. Peper!” I was greeted rapturously by one of the earphone-equipped starters. “We have you playing Dye’s Valley at 12:45 but if you’d like to go out a little earlier—say 12:15—we’d be happy to accommodate you.”
“Sure,” I said, a bit leery of the royal welcome. Had Beman outed me?
Off I went to the tee only to find four golfers already assembled and not particularly interested in welcoming a fifth. Back to the range.
“So sorry, Mr. Peper,” said the starter. “This almost never happens. I can assure you your 12:45 time will work, and if it doesn’t, you can play the TPC for free.” Now I knew they were onto me. Surely they didn’t treat everyone this way.
Seems they did. On the practice tee the next morning I overheard starters helping other golfers with tee times, cheerfully replenishing range balls, and generally working hard to please. This is a resort where service is paramount. Likewise at the Marriott, the greeting was sincerely friendly, the attention swift, and the service solicitous whether at the front desk, the breakfast buffet, or the lobby bar.
My room was fine but I must say I resent paying $13 a day for wi-fi and $10 for valet parking. Also, when the two-night golf package runs well over $1,000 everything should be close to perfect and it wasn’t—when I returned to the hotel after golf on the second day—at about 2 p.m.—the room had not been made up.
As for the golf, although Dye’s Valley is a great layout, full of fun and challenge, especially on the water holes of the back nine, its bermuda greens were in less than top condition—mottled, slow (in the 9 range) and a bit tired looking. And although the TPC is one of my favorites, the Players Championship tail is wagging this dog. All play began at the 10th hole, the back tees were closed, it was cartpaths only, and the greens were slow.
“They won’t let ’em get fast until tournament time,” said the forecaddie. Sorry, but that doesn’t wash—not when the main thing you’re selling is the experience of playing the same course the pros play.
On the plus side, the pace of play was great—about four hours on each course—thanks in large part to the expert forecaddies at the TPC who do their best to coax players off the blue tees and onto the white markers—barely 6,100 yards (yet still sloped at 137). I was miffed when my group opted for the whites, but fortunately held my tongue since I played as if I needed an even shorter course. At the famed 17th, playing only 105 yards for us, I managed two—two balls in the water.
The most satisfying courses were lunch and dinner. Nineteen, the dining room at the TPC clubhouse, has superb sandwiches (try the French Dip) and the Marriott’s Augustine Grill may be the best restaurant in Florida—lobster napoleon, prime filet, fresh fish bathed in delectable sauces, and homemade bread I couldn’t stop eating. Thank goodness there was a 24-hour gym.
Of course, whatever the pluses and minuses, this resort has one cachet that no other can match—the chance you’ll bump into one of the locals—Vijay Singh, Fred Funk, Jim Furyk—or a card-carrying member of the PGA Tour. And that alone may be worth the price.